Sui­cide preven­tion notes re­moved from Gorge Bridge

The Taos News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Cody Hooks [email protected]­

River John­son, a 17-yearold from Taos County, wanted to do some­thing for peo­ple at the Gorge Bridge who think about killing them­selves.

She came up with the idea of Hope Notes: small, in­spi­ra­tional mes­sages tied to the railings of the bridge. Con­sid­er­ing how tough the hol­i­days can be, John­son wanted to keep the notes up through Jan. 2.

She and a team of vol­un­teers put up the first round of lam­i­nated notes Dec. 9 and the sec­ond Dec. 22.

In both cases, work­ers with the New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion have quickly taken the notes down.

“The mes­sage in the notes is a pos­i­tive one, but we can’t al­low peo­ple to at­tach any­thing to the bridge,” said Paul Brasher, District 5 en­gi­neer for the DOT.

Brasher’s con­cern is that al­low­ing one type of cam­paign at the bridge could “set a prece­dent” for other groups to put less-pos­i­tive notes or ad­ver­tis­ing on the bridge.

“If you dis­re­gard the pos­i­tive mes­sage, you’re de­fac­ing the bridge,” Brasher said. While he did not cite a spe­cific pol­icy or depart­ment rule to jus­tify re­mov­ing the notes, he said it was stan­dard pro­ce­dure to clean up graf­fiti or van­dal­ism.

DOT crews have also had to re­move locks and stick­ers placed on the bridge railings.

When a DOT worker be­gan to re­move the notes Mon­day (Dec. 24), a man at the bridge be­came ag­gres­sive and irate, ac­cord­ing to New Mex­ico State Po­lice spokesper­son Dusty Fran­cisco.

State po­lice were dis­patched to the bridge around 10:25 a.m. “State po­lice talked to the male sub­ject and through in­ves­ti­ga­tion it was de­ter­mined that there was no crime com­mit­ted. No ar­rests were made,” Fran­cisco said via email.

The male was not iden­ti­fied.

Both John­son and Jill Cline, a mem­ber of Help Out­reach Taos, said they do not sup­port “any­one act­ing like this” to­ward a DOT em­ployee who was do­ing their job.

“We want to know how we can af­fect pol­icy, so we can al­low these kinds of dis­plays to hap­pen,” Cline said. “It is so im­por­tant.”

Ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ico Of­fice of the Med­i­cal In­ves­ti­ga­tor, more than 40 sui­cides have oc­curred since the bridge was built in 1965. Three of those oc­curred in July alone.

Hope Notes, a pro­ject of Com­mon Grounds: A Taos Teen Co-Op and Help Out­reach Taos, has re­ceived the sup­port of Taos Po­lice Chief David Tru­jillo, Taos County Sher­iff Jerry Ho­grefe and Staci Mat­lock, ed­i­tor of The Taos News.

Ho­grefe cre­ated a Hope Note fea­tur­ing the Taos County Sher­iff’s Of­fice badge that read, “WE CARE ABOUT YOU!!! Know that help is avail­able dur­ing times of cri­sis. If you know some­one strug­gling please call our Lo­cal dis­patch (575) 7582216 or 1-855-NMCRISIS

(662-7474) day or night.” Hope Notes or­ga­niz­ers plan to be­gin plac­ing the mes­sages at busi­nesses around Taos that sup­port the idea as well.

River Joy John­son ties a HOPE note to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge on Sun­day (Oct. 9). John­son helped launch the pro­ject to dis­trib­ute notes of sup­port and hope around town in an ef­fort to pre­vent peo­ple from tak­ing their own lives.

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